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Tuesday, 25 March 1980
Page: 948

Senator McINTOSH (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs whether he said last week that Noonkanbah station had been purchased for the Noonkanbah community for its social and economic advantage and advancement. Has the Minister now abandoned this objective? If not, can he tell the Senate how it is possible for this objective to be met if the Noonkanbah people have no effective control over what activities take place at Noonkanbah? What action will the Minister take to prevent the State Government from totally subverting the objectives of the Commonwealth in providing funds for the original purchase?

Senator CHANEY - I do not remember the precise words that I used last week, but I would have used words very much to the effect of those mentioned. The words stated are certainly consistent with the reasons for the purchase of Noonkanbah. I accept that the words are taken from Hansard. I assure the Senate, and Senator Mcintosh, that the Commonwealth has not abandoned those objectives, although in making this purchase it did not maintain any direct control over the property which became vested in the Aboriginal Land Trust of Western Australia- I think either as a shareholder or directly- which is a body constituted under State statute. The purchase of this and other pastoral leases in Western Australia has not been made on the basis that the purchase of the lease will leave the Aboriginal people in possession of the station without interference from any outside body. A pastoral lease in Western Australia does not involve, by definition, the fee simple transfer of the land and of course it does not involve any right to prevent mining on the land.

The incidence of tenure of a pastoral lease is such that a mining company, or a prospector, may obtain tenements or mining rights on the property. These may be exercised notwithstanding the existence of the pastoral lease. That has always been the situation and it remains the situation today. The question at Noonkanbah, which is of some complexity and difficulty, is the protection, which is afforded not only on Aboriginal owned stations but on stations generally, to sites which are of sacred significance to Aboriginal people. The dispute, which has revolved around the Noonkanbah drilling, has been on that ground. On occasions the argument has been extended by the community to one in which it is suggested that it would seek to keep all other activity off the property. That is not a position which is tenable given the law of Western Australia relating to pastoral leases.

As far as the protection of sacred sites is concerned, there have been repeated affirmations by the State Government that properly identified sites will be protected. The area of difficulty lies in the distinction which is drawn between the protection of specific sites as against broad acre areas. The honourable senator will be aware that the most recent report from the Western Australian museum dated the middle of last year identifies an area of, I think, 1 5 by 6 kilometres which has been designated, by the investigating officer as an area of significance. That is not accepted by the State Government as being the identification of a site. The State legislation relates to specific sites which are identified on a map as being particular sites under section 5 of the State Act. The matter of Noonkanbah raises the difficulty of how sites, which are to receive protection under Western Australian legislation, are to be identified and the nature of those sites. The clear statement of the Western Australian Government is that it will give protection to specific sites rather than to broad acres, although the term broad acres is my term and not the Western Australian Government 's.

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